Vanessa Hodgkinson, Me, Myself and Mona, 2011.

Date: 11 November 2011
Time: 19:00 – 19:45
Venue: National Portrait Gallery

Looking at the world as a picture, questions posed, become surprised, as the figures in the picture move about, re-arranging the image of the world as we know it, and as the spectator demands. Looking at the Exposition Universelle of 1889 in Paris, Sarah Rifky attempted to piece together what really happened when the Egyptian Delegation, who headed to the Eighth International Orientalist Congress in Stockholm, that same year, stopped for 18 days in Paris, and experienced Cairo in its spectacular appearance at the world exhibition.

In the autumn of 2011, while on a research residency in London, serendipity strikes and Rifky meets an artist who gives an account of herself as ‘the last Orientalist’: Vanessa Hodgkinson. Describing their first encounter, Rifky says Hodgkinson, a young beautiful woman, was dressed as an Orientalist image of herself, had deliberately and in most theatrical fashion, fallen off her chair. Intrigued by this incident, Rifky follows Hodgkinson in conversation, and as it turns out, Hodgkinson, a living contemporary artist, had been present, over a century ago at the Eighth International Congress in Stockholm (1889). She had also stopped in Paris, en route to Sweden, to see the acclaimed erection of the Eiffel Tower.

This event is co-produced as part of the NPG’s Chasing Mirrors exhibition.


Sarah Rifky is a writer and curator (Townhouse, Cairo), and the first recipient of the DELFINA-FICA Research Fellowship residency in partnership with Iniva and Goldsmiths.

Vanessa Hodgkinson (b.1982) lives and works in London. She studied History of Art at Cambridge University, Arabic at Kuwait University, Islamic Art at the Prince’s School of Traditional Art, and is about to begin her Post-Graduate Diploma in Fine Art at Chelsea College of Art & Design. Hodgkinson’s practice is based on the rigorous training in traditional Islamic arts. But instead of following the expected religious or cultural framework of these modes, she infuses her work with the complexities of Orientalism, in both historical and contemporary contexts.

In collaboration with

National Portrait Gallery